Rio de Janeiro might be the most famous destination when it comes to Carnival, but Argentina should not be overlooked. While the largest carnival in the country takes place in Gualeguaychú, if you’re planning on being in Buenos Aires, don’t miss out on the spectacular Carnaval Porteño!
Carnival in Buenos Aires may not be as extravagant as those hosted in the North, yet it is still a glitzy party with its own distinct flavours and traditions. The main festivities take place over the official Carnival long weekend, with two days of public holidays. Prepare for a long weekend of parades and parties!
History of Carnaval Porteño
Argentina’s Carnival grew at the close of the 18th century, around the same time as the tango. With similar working class roots, Carnaval Porteño adopted the murga style as a way to express dissatisfaction with the situation of the country and to make fun of those in power. There was a distinct ethnic element to murgas initially, with that of the African slaves differing from the murgas of European immigrants. Eventually, the murgas came to represent neighbourhoods rather than ethnic or religious groups. It became a popular part of the Argentine calendar until the military government of the 1970s stopped the celebrations. With the return to democracy came a carnival revival and the Buenos Aires Carnival has become a popular celebration once again.
What is a Murga?
Murga is a percussion-based rhythm performed by a marching band on the streets, with an acrobatic dance to match. The lyrics of the songs are referred to as ‘criticas’, as they combine social criticism with humour, frequently targeting corrupt politicians. The Murga Porteña can be defined by dancers (also called murgueros) in colourful, shiny costumes with gloves, a top hat and stick, all symbols of aristocracy from colonial times. This is very different to the carnival costumes worn in Brazil, and even in Gualeguaychú and the Andean communities of Northern Argentina.
Today, the carnival parties and festivities in Buenos Aires consist of murga parades hosted across the city. Because Murgas are connected to each individual neighbourhood, they take place in their barrios. Murgas include Los Amantes de la Boca (The Lovers of La Boca), Los Viciouso de Almagro (The Vicious of Almagro), Los Fantoches de Villa Urquiza (The Loud-Mouths of Villa Urquiza) and Los Chiflados de Boedo (the Crazies of Boedo). The parades include bands and dancers often accompanied by murga singers. While the main parade takes place along Avenida de Mayo, the neighbourhood corsos are closer to block parties than official parades.
Keep an eye out on the website for Carnival in Buenos Aires for when and where each parade takes place. All parades are free of charge.
Carnival in Buenos Aires is a lot of fun. As it is lesser known and spread out across the city, the crowds are much more manageable than the more famous Carnivals, making for a more pleasant experience. And like Carnival elsewhere, the party spirit is infectious. After dancing along to the murga beats, head out to the city’s boliches (clubs) to keep the party going.
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By Nicole Eberhard